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2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip hop, a culture born in the streets of the South Bronx with DJing, emceeing, breakdancing and graffiti at its cornerstones. But it is still a male-dominated space. Even though women who rap or DJ may not be on the radio as much as their male counterparts, plenty of talented women are creating hip hop culture, and right here in Buffalo.

Women of hip hop: A.I. The Anomaly is from the East Side and wants you to know it

A.I. The Anomaly headshot
Kristy Tasca
A.I. The Anomaly is a rapper, artist and educator from Buffalo, N.Y.

In the first in the series on Buffalo's women of hip hop, WBFO features rapper, artist and creative A.I. The Anomaly. Hit the 'Listen' button to hear A.I's story accompanied by clips of her music.

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip hop, but it is still a male-dominated genre. Even though women who rap may not be on the radio as much as their male counterparts, plenty of talented women are creating hip hop music, and right here in Buffalo.

A.I. The Anomaly is one such artist.

Real name Aitina Fareed-Cooke, A.I. The Anomaly was born and raised on Buffalo's East Side, and she wants everyone to know it.

"The East Side of Buffalo gets a bad rep and there so much negativity that is talked about surrounding this side of the city. Yet, this is the side that I grew up on," she says. "Yes, it can be tough and difficult, but yet, I am the rose that pushed through the concrete, so I always want to shout that from the top of my lungs."

"The East Side of Buffalo gets a bad rep and there so much negativity that is talked about surrounding this side of the city. Yet, this is the side that I grew up on."

A.I. The Anomaly pictured outside with an exposed brick wall as the backdrop
Kristy Tasca
Real name Aitina Fareed Cooke, A.I. started writing lyrics in childhood as an emotional outlet.

A.I. is small in stature, but big in voice and spirit. Her song Eastside is perhaps her best known to date. In answer to the hook's question "Who's that little lady from the East Side?" she proudly responds with her stage name "A.I. The Anomaly!"

Writing started as an emotional outlet for A.I.; she says that in childhood she was diagnosed as "emotionally handicapped." She lost her mother to substance abuse when she was just 3 years old.

This made for a tough early childhood. One story she has been told regarding these years is that when she was around 14 months old, her biological mother left her and her two siblings - a brother and a sister - home alone for 3 days.

"When [my mother] was found she was locked up. And we were placed in a foster care. So we grew up without our biological mother," A.I. says, as a matter of fact.

Her 2017 album Sever Threads processes some of those childhood experiences. In the track Abandoned, she grapples with questions of her identity in relation to her biological mother, with the lyrics "Momma in the mirror I resemble all your figures, I was young I remember, I hate that you wasn't living, addiction ain't got no limits," demonstrating a myriad of frustrations.

In 1993, A.I. and her siblings were adopted by their foster mother, Lateyfah Fareed, who fought to keep all 3 children together as a unit, and who A.I. regards as her mother, "She chose to be my mother," she says of Fareed.

"I think that there's an ideology that it doesn't work," - on perspectives of women in hip hop.

In fact, A.I. cites her adoptive mother as the reason why she discovered the creative arts.

She tells the story of an important turning point in her life, which happened in her teenage years: when A.I. was around 16 years old, she tried to run away from home, fleeing to a nearby community center. She was sorely disappointed when her mother found her right away.

"It was this moment where she walked in, and I looked at her and she looked at me, and I understood, like, oh, shoot, she found me. And we got in the car. And in the car, we had a conversation. And she shared some things with me that allowed me to see her as human. She wasn't my Mom for a moment, she was just a human being....And I decided in that moment that I'm going to do everything that I can to try to make this woman proud."

With that, A.I. decided to focus on the artistic classes her mother encouraged her to attend, and she discovered photography, art and music. Her endeavors in the latter have taken her all over the country to perform tracks from her 4 studio albums.

But it seems that not everyone in A.I.'s circle is always impressed with her stage performances.

"It's very embarrassing. It's cringey. I do not like it at all," deadpans Isaac, A.I.'s 15-year-old son, before breaking into laughter, "No it's cool!"

"This is me being a teenage boy and seeing my Mom jump around on stage. I think it's cool. It's a real cool and dope experience to see my Mom being passionate about all the things she loves to do. It's inspiring," Isaac adds.

A music studio interior with recording and mixing equipment
Music producer Carolinah Blu's studio, where A.I. The Anomaly records her work.
A dark recording booth with a red light in the corner and a microphone on a stand.
The recording booth where A.I. records her tracks

A.I. also has a 6-year-old daughter, and she says that her perspective as a wife, mother and woman are inevitably centered in her work. Her Christian faith also shines through in her lyrics. But women rapping on these kinds of themes haven’t yet broken through to the mainstream. A.I. suspects this is down to a perception that female hip hop artists do not sell.

"I think that there's an ideology that it doesn't work. And this, this overarching feeling that sex, drugs, and power and money, and all of those things sell better than talking about just regular life and struggles and things like that," she says wryly. "It's really a choice. It's really what you choose to do and how you choose to showcase."

Instead, she defines her success by the impact she can have through her music. Raising her son Isaac around her artistic projects means that he is already helping to produce her albums, and has his own music and art projects on the go. Isaac is mentored by A.I.'s producer and collaborator, Carolinah Blu.

"It's my job to get A.I. in a comfortable position, so that she can give the best performance possible in a recording setup," says Blu.

A.I. prefers to write and record in a darkened booth, with no eyes on her, so Blu installed a curtain at the window between his spot at the mixing desk and the booth. A.I. took this as a sign of Blu's respect and commitment, and their collaboration was born.

"A.I. is extremely professional. A.I. is extremely thoughtful, articulate, and her style is impeccable. Her voice is wonderful. Her cadence is great. And it's just one of those perfect marriages, where when we're doing music, there's not much stuff better," Blu notes.

Reactions from audience members after her shows particularly spur A.I.'s creativity.

"When people come up and they've heard things that I've said, and the stories that I've shared, they begin to start opening up and letting me know like, ‘I've gone through that too. This has encouraged me.’ I think that part is the best part. Because it solidifies the work that I'm doing," A.I. says.

She may be that "little lady from the East Side," but do not underestimate the massive talent of A.I. The Anomaly.

You can find A.I. The Anomaly's work on music streaming services.

Albums by A.I. The Anomaly:

Sever Threads, 2017

BLKNVS, 2019

Soul's Acrylic, 2021

Sibling Rivalry, 2022.

Holly Kirkpatrick is a journalist whose work includes investigations, data journalism, and feature stories that hold those in power accountable. She joined WBFO in December 2022.